Tara Stiles @ Strala Yoga (NYC)

Tara Stiles, NYC-based model turned yoga teacher, was recently featured in a New York Times article about being a rebel in the yoga world. The article saddened me, not due to this apostate’s threat to the happy yoga community, but because I realized how out of the gossip loop I was. I had no idea that a controversy had been percolating.

So, last week I headed to her studio to see what the fuss was all about. After careful research of attending one class, I’ve decided that Tara is no rebel (as I had earlier suspected). I enjoyed her class.

Tara had a nice calm energy, stressing the breath, and often reminding us to “take it easy” if we lost our breath. It was like an extended version of her YouTube videos. There were no oms, she didn’t use Sanskrit names for poses, music was more indie rock than yoga, and there was no dharma talk. But these seemed like superficial differences from most other (asana) yoga classes I’ve attended. Same poses, same emphasis on breath, same sitting quietly at the beginning and end of class to focus inward. She started class with alternate nostril breathing and ended class with three long sighs, inhaling through the nose and exhaling softly through the mouth—which gave me the feeling of soundless oms.

Most everything else about the studio was great (save the changing/storage area which seemed inadequate and insecure). Front desk was very friendly. Space is a large and clean modern loft. The price can’t be beat. $10 for a class in the middle of NYC! Class was not packed but full. There was a decent number of dudes. I like to see dudes in yoga class because these skittish creatures are rarely glimpsed in the yoga wilds.

I appreciate Ms Stiles’ appeal. No dogma, accessible pricing ranging from free YouTube videos to $10 classes (which I repeat is a steal in NYC, where studios charge drop-in rates of $20/class), and I left feeling good. Oh, and she’s hot.

That said, I dig my yoga teachers a little more hippie dippie, or, if not that, seriously alignment focused–someone who can throw in a dash of philosophy, lead class in a little singing, or give guidance towards a more subtle body awareness. The NYT describes it thusly: “Ms. Stiles is not trying to appeal to the yoga elite or to the purist. She is going for the firefighter from Long Island who feels intimidated by “oms” and New Age music.” Does this make me part of the yoga elite? I hope so! elite, elite, elite, it just rolls off the tongue.

NYT manufactures a controversy about Tara Stiles

Yoga? Ms. Stiles in an american apparel ad.

Tara Stiles is a young, NYC-based yoga instructor. She is Deepak Chopra’s “personal instructor”, author of “Slim Calm Sexy Yoga,” and apparently great at getting press (with features in Elle, Lucky, InStyle, Esquire, and Men’s Health, according to her bio.)

Her most recent press coup is this article in the NY Times, which calls Ms. Stiles a “rebel” yoga instructor. It paints Ms. Stiles as a rebel in the yoga world because she teaches in a more physical, less philosophical style. She calls the sacrum the lower back. (Is being imprecise rebellious?) She refuses to name the studio where she trained because it was “not useful”. (Wouldn’t a 200 hour teacher training have had some sort of influence, good or bad?)

I find article silly because Ms. Stiles is hardly controversial–most yoga-ers in America learn yoga from teachers that ignore the philosophy and have had generic training. Ms Stiles is pretty and has an enormous number of free videos on youtube–all of which help her attract more Americans, especially dudes, to yoga. And some of these people, once attracted, may then decide to go deeper into the practice. This is good.

And, how to make this sound less callous than I mean it, I don’t think many yoga-ers beyond the hard core few expend much energy thinking about her, because: 1) she’s not a rebel, 2)  she’s not a strong presence in the yoga scene (how many have taken her class or read her book?), and 3) yoga people are too groovy to get judgmental in public. Indeed, when Yoga Journal blogged about the NYT article and asked if there was a controversy, most responses were a variation of “no, no controversy, to each her own.” (There has been much discussion of the article in the yogablogosphere. For example, here, here, here, here. I found NY-instructor Sadie Nardini’s post about the background machinations of Creative Artists Agency quite interesting). But still, I believe that the article misses its mark, because Ms Stiles is but a symptom of yoga’s growing pains as it becomes more mainstream in the U.S.

I commend the NYT on its attempt to root out the seedy underbelly of yoga–who doesn’t love a good controversy?–but the NYT needs to try harder. Perhaps more articles on cults or maybe something on inappropriate adjustments?

UPDATE: I went to her class. I enjoyed it.